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Afterimage Review

We Need A Makeover of American Currency

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Many countries throughout the world do permit images of living persons to be depicted on their bills, their coins, as well as on their government issued bonds. Why America is an exception?

Many countries throughout the world do permit images of living persons to be depicted on their bills, their coins, as well as on their government issued bonds.  Why America is an exception?

In 2011, the administrators at the post office realized that whatever the reasoning behind the 1866 statute had been, the ban on showing images of living people on our stamps no longer makes much sense in the 21st century.  I’m trying to advocate here for the administrators within our Treasury Department, our mint as well as our Bureau Of Engraving And Printing to recognize this too.

The recent decision to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman has gotten many of us thinking about our bills, our coins.

In 1866, our Federal government passed a law which prohibits images of any living people from appearing on our bills, coins, stamps or any government bonds.  In 2011, the administrators at the U.S. post office overturned the 1866 statute, and they decided that they would begin to permit images of living people to appear on USPS issued stamps.

The precise reasons that the administrators within the Post Office Department, which was the name of the USPS in the 19th century had opted to ban the use of portraits and images of living persons on our stamps are not entirely known, though it is widely believed that they’d thought that some people might feel so overwhelmed by their own popularity if they were to be honored by having their portrait or image depicted on a postage stamp, the presence of their image or portrait on a stamp might contribute to a sense of feeling too powerful, and some people might start to abuse the privilege, possibly for commercial purposes.

While this is now permitted, the only stamps which have been issued so far which have images of living people on them since 2011 have been the 2013 “Harry Potter series stamps, and ironically many of the actors who are depicted (in character costumes) on those stamps are actually U.K. citizens, making one of the first if not the first time that images of foreign citizens have been depicted on American USPS issued stamps.  The statute which prohibits images of living persons being depicted still remains effective for all American currency and treasury bonds.

 

Many countries do permit images of living persons to be depicted on their currency

Many countries throughout the world do permit images of living persons to be depicted on their bills, their coins, as well as on their government issued bonds.  In many countries, an image of a current or former president, prime minister or monarch will appear on some of their bills, coins and bonds.  It is another means of showing recognition to people for their accomplishments while they are still alive.

The list of proposed candidates for someone to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on our $20 bill had included Alice Paul, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth, Rachel Carson, Barbara Jordan, Margaret Sanger, Patsy Mink, Clara Barton, Frances Perkins, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller.

Most of these aforementioned women have appeared on USPS postage stamps, and the ones who died in recent years appeared on stamps following their deaths.  Now that we are finally permitted to show many of our current as well as future reformers, activists, scientists, researchers, astronauts, athletes, artists, musicians, actors, authors, poets, politicians, inventors, etc. some of the recognition, the honor and the respect that they deserve for their accomplishments by allowing images of some of them to appear on our postage stamps while they are still alive, we might want to ask ourselves if we want to wait until they die to allow images of some of them to appear on coins, our bills and our government issued treasury bonds as well.

Throughout the 20th century, most of the portraits who have appeared on our coins and our stamps have been former presidents, the exceptions being Alexander Hamilton (the $10 bills) and Benjamin Franklin (the $100 bills.)  However, we now need to redesign our coins and our bills more often than we did throughout the 20th century because counterfeiters throughout the world now have access to more advanced equipment than ever before.

Our Treasury, our mint and our Bureau Of Engraving And Printing may need to be introducing new coins, bills and bonds into circulation every 5 or 10 years if we discover that the technologies available to counterfeiters throughout the world are continuing to become increasingly sophisticated throughout the course of the upcoming decades of the 21st century.

With every newly redesigned coin, bill and bond comes the opportunity to honor another person by showing an image of their portrait, and we may want to ask ourselves if we really want to continue to limit our options of only honoring people who have already died, or if we want to opt to show images of living persons on our currency also.

 

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About the author

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Scott lives in Rye, N.Y. photo credit: Liza Margulies